Monday, December 29, 2008

New Mexico for the holidays

I'm back in New Mexico, and feel blessed to have had some snow for the holidays!
Not much snow, but enough to have made it a white Christmas. Enough to have put a damper on sound. Enough to make it appealing to build a fire in the kiva fireplace. Enough to turn the lines of trees into Japanese etchings...Or the lines of a chair into an abstract...
Every year I come here for solstice. My women friends gather for a pot luck and we usually do a gift exchange. You know the kind - where each person brings one gift and you get to pick the one you want? Well, this year it seems that everyone is fed up with "things." No one wanted another thing. So someone came up with the brilliant idea of doing a poetry exchange instead. The poems had to be positive, hopeful, possibly about renewal - whatever. They just couldn't be downers or political.

This year I drove. I decided to take the rest of the year off and spend it here, and with that much time it makes sense to drive - especially with gas prices being so low these days. When I drive in the winter it makes sense to go through Tucson. I have a friend who lives there so I usually stop there for the night. It's about 6 hours from San Diego to Tucson, and about another 6 from Tucson to Albuquerque. I was lucky that I didn't get any weather. There was snow on the ground in southern New Mexico, but none coming out of the sky - just one of the most sensational sunsets I've seen in my life. (Since I was driving - no photos!) It was 360 degrees of spectacular, with golds, oranges, pinks, mauves, blues and grays all transforming into each other.

So now solstice and Christmas are over, and the snows have passed, though we still have some on the ground. The sun is blazing in a brilliant blue sky and there's ice melting and dripping off the roof. My family is due to arrive this evening. We will celebrate New Year's Eve together. I have been able to cook a large pot pork and red chili and eat that for the majority of the time I've been here. In the morning I heat it up and put two eggs over it. In the evening I heat it up and mop up the juices with a soft flour tortilla.
There is no recipe for this dish. I simply took an onion, cut it up and put it in a pan with garlic. When it was soft (about 5 minutes), I added some cubed pork, some cut up potatoes and red chili. I bought this red chili at the local grocery store. If you want red chili, the best usually comes from Chimayo, New Mexico. (For green, it's Hatch, New Mexico.) It comes in a plastic tub, like the ones margerine comes in. I dumped probably 5 or 6 big tablespoons in the pot (I like mine hot!) and stirred, lowered the flame and covered. Oh yes, I put in some water. About 25 minutes later, I opened a can of corn (Yikes! Don't fire me for using canned corn - it's winter and I didn't have any frozen!), strained out the liquid and dumped it in. Stir, cover and let simmer another 5 minutes or so until the corn is warmed up.

And, as my niece Rachael would say over at Fresh Approach Cooking, taste the joy.
Oh, and if you're curious about what poems I brought to share, I brought the Ferlinghetti poem that I posted here back in May. I also brought everyone's favorite Mary Oliver poem -

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I wish every one of you a healthy, prosperous and joyful new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookies

I was invited to a cookie exchange party yesterday. Now, this might seem odd to you, because I know that most of you bake quite a bit, and so I'm sure you've gone to LOTS of cookie exchange parties. But This was my first one. Yep. Didn't know what to expect. But Kibria, who works for me, told me that she and her mom do this every year, and that there would be about 30 people coming. THIRTY PEOPLE???? Holy Smackrels! I had to bake a LOT of cookies!!!

Fortunately, the weather has turned here in San Diego. YEAHHHHH!!! Let's hear it for rain!! And people are talking about how cold it's been - it's been about 54 degrees in the middle of the day.

OK. I'll wait for you to stop laughing. (But here in San Diego, that's considered cold.)

Now.....back to the cookies. Because I'm not really a baker.............but I've always wanted to play one on TV -- I decided to go to a really good source for cookie recipes. That would be Susan, over at Food Blogga. Last year she did a Christmas cookie event, and I saw the most mouth watering cookies imaginable! So good, in fact, that I remembered it a year later when looking for cookie recipes. I honestly wish I could photograph them as beautifully as the original entries, but ever since my fast macro lens was stolen a few years ago, I've never replaced it. So I find myself shooting everything with a telephoto. It's not as good, but at the moment a fast macro is out of the question for me. So the telephoto will have to do.........

And the cooler weather, the gray skies and the rain make the idea of baking so very, very appealing. And then there's all that color just waiting to be a part of the cookies - cranberries and pistachio biscotti anyone???

I got the recipe from over at Nook & Pantry, and the moment I saw them I knew I had to try it. Because I am not a baker........I've never made biscotti before. But the recipe looked easy and it was. So easy, in fact, that I think I will have to bake these while I'm in New Mexico. I have the feeling that they will be my breakfast every day during the holidays. There's a great description of the various kinds of biscotti in this post, so I will let you read that on your own. The only caveat I have is that these are genuine dunking cookies. They aren't like the kind you get at Starbucks - the ones you could eat as is without dunking them. Oh no. Do not be fooled. These are most definitely the break-your-teeth-unless-you-dunk kind. But once they've been dunked - even for a short time - they will reward you with the most amazing combination of flavors you've ever had in one biscotti. Promise.

Orange Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 C AP flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/2 C dried cranberries

1/2 C pistachio halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pistachio halves, and cranberries. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is evenly incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form two logs that are about 10 to 12 inches long and 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide. Bake for 30 minutes, rotate the pan halfway into the baking time.

After baking, cool the loaves on a rack until they are cool enough to handle.

Then using a serrated knife cut the cookies about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick at an angle. The length of your cookies will depend on the angle at which you cut the cookies.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Place the cut biscottis on a rack placed on a sheet tray and continue to bake for about 20 minutes, until the cookies have completely dried. If you don't have a rack for your pan, place the cookies directly on the pan and bake for 10 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool completely before storing them. Or dip them in some chocolate if you prefer.

Now.......Because there were going to be 30 people at this exchange, I decided that one tray full of biscotti would not be enough, even though I doubled the recipe. So what else was I going to bring? Well.......let's face it. Chocolate rules. Christmas, New Year's, Memorial Day, Fourth of July - it doesn't matter. One can never have too much chocolate as far as I'm concerned. So I turned to one of my favorite bakers/food bloggers - Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen. Now, I have no idea what all of you do with your time, but mine is constantly overbooked. It's the reason why I've recently fallen way behind in my blogging. There have been other projects, and then the beginning of the Christmas parties, etc., etc., etc. So I've barely kept up with blogging.

And then I go over to Patricia's blog, and she's not only blogging, she's doing it in 2 languages - Portuguese and English! I have no idea how that's possible to do, but she's doing it. And furthermore, she does a sensational job - with her imaginative recipes and her drool-inducing photographs. How could I not use one of her recipes??? Even the simplest cookie - a chocolate star - in her hands made me know that I HAD to have it!
So here's the recipe for these yummy creations. A word of advice here......she says that the recipe makes a lot. That depends upon the size of your cutter. She used a 2" cutter, halved the recipe and got over 40 cookies. My cutter is larger, so even though I increased the recipe by 50%, I still wound up with only about 30 cookies. (Actually, there were a few more, but "quality control" got to them before they made it to the party!)

Brownie roll-out cookies

3 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (226g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened + pinch of salt
1 ½ cups (300g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (60g) unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven at 180ºC/350ºF. Whisk flour, ½ teaspoon salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, pinch of salt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.

Roll out cookie dough on floured counter (I rolled it between lightly floured sheets of baking paper) until it is ¼ inch (about 0.60cm) thick. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top.
Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 11 minutes or until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I am going to enter these in Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies event this year. Check it out. It will become your go-to source for Christmas cookies from now on!Oh......And just so you know, there's a Roundup Page, where you can keep checking back to see the latest entries. You want to know how popular this event is? It started today, and there's already a gagillion cookie recipes there! Seriously, folks, it's time to check it out.